Starting my first switch


For several years I’ve wanted to dip my toes into hand laying track, particularly switch building (well, ever since I heard about Fast Tracks on a podcast). Unfortunately attempts to save up funds for a fixture kit tends to lead to emergency expenses like transmission rebuilds or most recently a hole in a transfer case. With another baby on the way (next month!) the near future doesn’t look promising either so I’ve decided to try building a switch without.

I entered this experiment with the assumption it probably wouldn’t work but if I never try it definitely won’t work. Rather than using a fixture I’m using a printed template off of the Fast Tracks website (I’ve heard stories of people doing this on podcasts).

I’ve started with the straight stock rail and based on the print-out rendering and watching the Fast Tracks videos I’m pretty sure I’ve got it filed correctly which brought me to soldering. I couldn’t for the life of me get even the first PCB tie and rail to sit still long enough to solder it solid let alone trying to line up all the important ties and keep things straight. Fortunately though, a recent post on Hunter Hughson’s blog was fresh in my mind, he was using tiny (and incredible looking) Proto87 spikes and having a similar alignment problem and solved it with alignment spikes.


I took the idea and some extra ties and a section of cork that has yet to be taken up in my rebuild to hold the rail in place to allow soldering. I was able to get a couple ties soldered down before my youngest son discovered I’d disappeared to the train room and I was concerned he’d get too interested in the soldering iron and I didn’t want him picking it up while I set it down to arrange another tie or something so I stopped for another time.

I still haven’t figured out a good way to do the points or frog, I’ve tried a couple test filing attempts but nothing successful yet so I may have to wait and find some spare change to pick up a #6 point form tool or I can find someone that would loan me a point form/jig (Baby’s first Fast Track kit? 🙂 )


2 thoughts on “Starting my first switch

  1. Matt, my first turnout (built many years ago) did actually work, but it wasn’t very pretty. I used to file stock rails, points, and frogs with my a bastard file and a miniature bench vise, so it can be done. If you plan to make a few turnouts, you should consider building a turnout tie jig. It’s basically a home-made fixture that you line up the ties on, then use a piece of masking tape to move them to your roadbed on the layout where they’re laid onto wet glue. Let me know if you want more info on that. The great thing about hand laying track freehand is that it hardly costs anything to get started… some rail, ties, spikes, file, and bench vise. Good luck!


    1. I’ve done a similar thing with masking tape and straight track, as I was spiking things down for support I was really thinking it might be easier to spike it in place with all the wood ties and then solder the PCB ties for strength even potentially going as far as spiking directly through the paper template and just ballast over it when done.

      I’ll have to try using a bench vise for filing points, I figured there had to be a way they did it before fast tracks 🙂

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